On a Vade Trail
The new Maharashtrian restaurant, Meena Tai’s, delights with unusual flavours
As restaurant names go, Meena Tai’s doesn’t provoke an immediate reaction — but it does suggest food hot out of a Maharashtrian grandma’s kitchen. The building that houses this new entrant boasts a bevy of dining halls serving different cuisines across its two floors. Batlivala and Khanabhoy, which represents a Parsi food diner in true south Mumbai fashion, was launched a couple of weeks ago and sits above Meena Tai’s. So too does the soon-to-open Abyssinian restaurant, which will serve Ethiopian fare — a first for Chennai.
We arrive early, my wife and I, so as to avoid the Sunday dinner time rush and Uday Balaji, co-owner and manager, meets us at the door. The 45-seater hall has memorabilia adorning the walls and ceilings — from old tin carton panels to wall clocks and door panels that Balaji and his brother have collected over the years. But it is the food that must find mention here and so on to the menu. We sit down to a glass of mattha and limboo sarbat each, spicy buttermilk and cardamom-laced lemonade in translation. Both are fresh and cooling as are the salads to go with — farasbichi koshimbir and kairichi dal or green beans with coconut and lime and Bengal gram with chopped raw mango and curd dried chillies.
As Pune Brahmin foods go, the sabudana vade is primary and is served hot and crisp, as is the surnaache kaap or yam fry with accompanying coriander chutney and a peanut and curd dip. For those more meat inclined such as us, there is mutton kanda lasun masala and the koli masala kolambi, boneless mutton kadai, and tossed and marinated prawns with a crisp crust. These could have been given a kick up in spice levels, though the flavours are warm and the meats very juicy. Balaji assures us that adding a spicier option is a possibility.
At the end
Malvani food, a cuisine on its own from the coast of Maharashtra, also finds a place on the menu at Meena Tai’s and we dip bread or malvani vade (like a puri almost) into tomato saar and kombdi rassa, a typical chicken curry with a coconut base. Nagpuri vade bhaat or crushed vada mixed into rice with chillis tempered in oil, rounds the meal out for us with so much more still described on the menu. We have just about enough space to share a piece of chirote and one glass of piyush, a sweet drink made from shrikhand and curd. Maybe next time we will drop by for some other classics like pithla and bhakri and chutney che paplet (pomfret in green chutney fried crisp).
At Venus Colony, Alwarpet. Meal for two (non-veg) Rs 1,500. Details: 33011687
— Niren Saldanha